Although the Berliner Philharmoniker and their chief conductor Kirill Petrenko remained in their home city for their 2021 Europakonzert due to the pandemic, the foyer of their concert hall offered the audience of the live broadcast an unusual and particularly appealing venue. Wolfgang Stresemann, who was the orchestra’s general manager for many years, wrote about the space with its numerous staircases: “Nothing is static in this foyer of the Philharmonie; it only serves function. Everything is alive and seems to be in constant motion. One could almost speak of an architectural ʻperpertuum mobileʼ”. Ideal conditions, then, for the wild final piece of the programme, John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine, in which the music does not stand still for a second either. The unusual spatial-sound effects of the other programme items also benefitted from the specific architectural conditions of the foyer: In his Emanations, Krzysztof Penderecki allows two separate instrumental ensembles to communicate with each other, while Charles Ives allows three in the famous study The Unanswered Question, and Mozart even allows four in his Notturno, which is full of witty echo effects.
The concert started off with Boris Blacher’s Fanfare for the Opening of the Philharmonie, which Herbert von Karajan conducted at the building’s inaugural concert on 15 October 1963. The main symphonic work on the programme is Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite No. 3, whose premiere was conducted by Hans von Bülow, later chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker, in St. Petersburg in 1885. In it, an elegy and a set of variations as a finale frame a waltz and a scherzo. With a programme that alternates between frenzied movement and meditation, the reflective and the dance-like, and melancholy and optimism, Kirill Petrenko and the Berliner Philharmoniker presented their audience with an entertaining Europakonzert full of hope, even in the difficult 2021.